QUINCY -- How felony cases are handle in Adams County is changing as officials look for ways to move cases more efficiently and reduce a backlog.
Adams County State's Attorney Gary Farha said his office will now bring most felony cases before a grand jury to seek an indictment instead of holding a preliminary hearing. He sees this as a way to help ease the backlog of cases in the court system.
"It's just much more efficient for us now because of all the cases that we have," Farha said. "A preliminary hearing ties up a judge, ties up a prosecutor, ties up a defense attorney, and ties up police officers who are waiting for their cases. That's terribly inefficient when we can take an individual and in 10 minutes give them the information that shows the elements of the offense was committed."
Court records show that 975 felony cases were filed in Adams County in 2017. In 2016, there were 762, with 724 in 2015 and 714 in 2014.
Anyone charged with a felony has the right to have their case reviewed by a judge at a preliminary hearing or by a grand jury.
The state's attorney's office plans to call a grand jury every three weeks to meet the 30-day requirement for a preliminary hearing or a grand jury indictment for anyone held in jail.
"We have always used a grand jury -- never to this extent," Farha said. "But most larger county governments utilize the grand jury in a similar way."
Though defense attorneys aren't present when a grand jury is called, they receive discovery evidence and a transcript of the grand jury proceedings.
The same standard applies to both preliminary hearings and grand juries, where it's determined whether there is probable cause in a case.
Farha said the three preliminary hearing dockets in Adams County are backlogged with cases that can make it difficult to move forward with pleas, sentencings and other matters.
In Adams County, a grand jury is typically set for a whole year, but now it will be convened every six months, with each grand jury meeting eight times.
For a grand jury to issue an indictment, nine of 16 jurors must vote in favor.
Farha said some new cases will be presented before the grand jury but most will be cases that have already been charged.
Any cases where someone chooses to waive his right to a preliminary hearing will not go before a grand jury.